During an afternoon press conference in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale addressed the most recent audit for the Wilkinsburg School District.
In his address, he noted four official findings from the audit. Mr. DePasquale also commended District Leadership for the work it already has completed toward the resolution of all four findings. Dr. Linda Iverson, Wilkinsburg School District Superintendent, also spoke briefly, following Mr. DePasquale’s comments on the audit to thank the community for its ongoing support.
“The Wilkinsburg School District appreciates the recommendations provided by the Auditor General’s Office following its review of District finances and operations,” she said. “While the District takes all recommendations seriously, we would like to stress that corrective action for all four findings contained within the report already is in progress.”
Dr. Iverson noted that she and other District administrators see the audit as being reflective of a success story for the Wilkinsburg School District and the Wilkinsburg community, which has pulled together to help the District’s schools and students thrive. “From our partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools, and our addition of the Second Step Social Skills Program and Positive Behavior Intervention Support, to the inclusion of a social worker on staff, Wilkinsburg School District is working to ensure that every child, every day matters,” Dr. Iverson said.
Mr. DePasquale praised Dr. Iverson and District leadership for its foresight in partnering with the Pittsburgh Public Schools, citing the model as one that other struggling school districts across Pennsylvania could emulate. The partnership provides Wilkinsburg students in grades 7-12 with the opportunity to attend a dozen different Pittsburgh Public schools, including magnets and focus schools that are highly competitive and offer an array of challenging academic offerings. Data from the 2017-2018 School Year indicates the partnership is proving successful, with attendance rates for Wilkinsburg students increasing to 93 percent during the first quarter alone. Student grade point averages are so high that for the first time, Wilkinsburg students have earned eligibility for the Pittsburgh Promise.
Dr. Iverson also addressed several of the findings from the audit.
In response to finding number one – which focused on the financial situation of the District – she noted that the District has made tremendous strides in eliminating a negative million dollar fund balance from 2013. “The current administration did not create the financially-distressed situation, but is working hard to remedy it. For the first time since 2013, we are ending fiscal year 2018 with a fund balance of just over $2.6 million, providing the District with a positive fund balance of $152,000. While school districts in Allegheny County and across the Commonwealth are looking at millage rate increases, the Wilkinsburg School District was able to reduce the burden on its taxpayers with a 3.13 mill reduction.”
Dr. Iverson noted, however, that Mr. DePasquale was incorrect when he asserted that Wilkinsburg utilized PDE transition funding to cover the costs of a delinquent tax sale that was approved by the School Board and District Administration in 2013. Funds used for the delinquent tax sale were paid in full in 2013, as the company assisting with the sale required payment in full in advance. “All transition funds received from PDE in 2016 were used to pay for the transition of our students to the Pittsburgh Public Schools,” she said. Dr. Iverson pledged that District leadership recognizes that the journey to fiscal responsibility and continued stability is far from over, and is dedicated to continuing the elimination of wasteful spending throughout the District.
She also addressed the finding that the District was not in compliance with PA Act 44, which addresses safety and security in all Pennsylvania schools. ‘The District also is making strides in the creation of a District-wide Emergency All Hazards Plan. We have written and submitted a School Safety and Security grant that, if received, will allow the District to develop a thorough school safety plan that addresses violence prevention, emergency preparedness and training for staff members,” she said. These efforts will include a team of representatives and participation from the District administrators, Wilkinsburg Police and Fire Department, EMS and community members. To date, the District has been awarded the initial Part A: Meritorious Grant Funds of the maximum $25,000 for the School Safety and Security Grant. District officials still are awaiting word on funding for Part B of the grant application.
The audit also focused heavily on the District’s School Performance Profile scores, Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores, Keystone Exam results and four-year cohort graduation rates for the District for academic years 2014-2015, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017. Dr. Iverson noted the District has begun to make small gains in student achievement, with an 8 percent increase English Language Arts PSSA test scores and a 4.7 percent increase in Math PSSA scores. “The improvements may be small, but they are evidence we are on the right track to academic success. We continue to provide quality professional development experiences for our teachers and administrators, and ensure the right personnel are in place to continue our goal of building a quality educational program.”
The full auditor’s report, which includes the official District response to each of the four findings, is available here.